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Trump Drops Keystone Pipeline’s U.S. Steel Requirement

IMAGE: Cranes are seen above piles of steel pipes to be exported at a port in Lianyungang, Jiangsu province, China, December 1, 2015. REUTERS/China Daily/File Photo

The Biggest Loser: Trump Has Gotten Even Less Popular While In Office

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a translation during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Democratic, GOP Presidential Races Diverge

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The sharpest contrast between Tuesday night’s Republican presidential debate and Saturday’s Democratic face-off was not tone, although the difference was marked, or the number of candidates. It was the time horizon: While the GOP anxiously eyes February’s primaries, the Democrats already have shifted focus to November’s general election.

Their long view could be seen Saturday as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, her main challenger, passed up chances to go on the attack:

Sanders apologized for his aides having raided the Clinton campaign’s voter files. Clinton said both campaigns should “move on” to other issues.

When Martin O’Malley criticized them for inconsistency on gun control, Clinton and Sanders defended each other. Clinton, having successfully bashed Sanders on gun issues for much of October and November, complimented him for altering his stand.

And when Clinton, eyes fixed firmly on the general election audience, talked tough about Syria, Iraq and Islamic State, Sanders said he worried that she might be “too aggressive” but acknowledged that it was a “complicated issue.”

“I don’t think anyone has a magical solution,” he said.

It’s not that Sanders has given up; he will certainly continue to push the issues that have mobilized the more than 2 million small-dollar donors who have financed his campaign. Already he can credibly say he has drawn the Democrats to the left on at least some parts of his agenda. But even though his aides have talked to reporters about potential attacks on Clinton, Sanders has made it clear by his actions in three successive debates that he has no desire to wage an all-out fight against the party’s presumptive nominee.

On the Republican side, meantime, the brawling is growing only more intense. Whether the party will remain together or split between its establishment wing and its Donald Trump faction remains an open question.

“Clinton is now on a glide path to the nomination, but the Republicans are just getting started,” said Dan Schnur, a veteran GOP strategist who now directs the University of Southern California’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics.

For months, Republican operatives have speculated about whether Trump would run an independent campaign if he loses the nomination. Now some have begun talking seriously about the opposite scenario: an establishment Republican running a third-party effort if Trump wins. Either way, the GOP could divide its presidential vote to the Democrats’ great advantage.

“Republicans could be in a disastrous state if Trump is nominated — I think unlikely — and frankly not much better off with” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said Republican consultant Rob Stutzman, who helped guide former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s California gubernatorial campaigns.

But “the process is so unsettled” on the GOP side that multiple candidates remain possibilities for the nomination, he said.

“Republicans could be facing unprecedented disaster or success,” Stutzman said. “It’s clear as mud.”

Despite evidence to the contrary, Clinton campaign officials insist they are not taking their attention off the primaries.

“We are totally focused on this primary right now, first Iowa, then obviously here in New Hampshire where there’s a very tight race,” campaign manager Robby Mook told reporters Saturday night after the debate. “We’re focused on earning every single vote, every single delegate, and then we’ll worry about the general after that.”

But the candidate’s actions tell a different tale, seen most notably in her statements about combating Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, an issue that cuts across both parties to create odd de facto alliances.

Trump and Cruz, for example, agree with Sanders that the U.S. should seek a deal with Russia to fight Islamic State. To make that happen, they say, the U.S. should stop insisting that Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Russia supports, must leave. Each also criticizes U.S. involvement in past efforts to overthrow dictators in the Mideast, including Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, agree with Clinton that opposing Assad needs to remain a priority. Each of them argues that the Sunni Arabs whose help the U.S. needs to battle Islamic State will cooperate only if they believe the U.S. is on their side in the fight against Assad, who is allied not only with Russia but also with their enemy Iran.

Each also supports a more vigorous version of the Obama administration’s policy, combining airstrikes and raids by U.S. special operations forces with a long-term effort to help Sunni groups fight for control of the territory in Syria and Iraq that Islamic State rules.

But the dynamics of the Republican race, especially the competition to be as tough-sounding as Trump, have led the candidates to state their position in ever-harsher terms, such as Cruz’s call this month for “carpet-bombing” Islamic State territory.

Clinton, with relatively little worry about opposition from her party’s antiwar left wing, has been able to pitch to the less committed voters who, even in this partisan age, can swing key states. In Saturday’s debate, she advocated expanded use of special operations forces and an intensified air campaign, meeting only limited opposition from Sanders.

None of that means Democrats can stop feeling nervous about the fall. Republican disarray in December does not guarantee division in the general election campaign. Partisans on both sides have a strong tendency to pull together in the end, no matter what. And winning a third straight presidential election remains a difficult challenge.

“I still think this cycle is tougher for us than many on my side will acknowledge, mainly because we have become so dependent on a specific turnout coalition,” said Steve Schale, who ran President Barack Obama’s successful campaign in Florida in 2008. “Take my home state. The smallest change in black turnout or Hispanic support changes the math in the wrong way.”

But Schale, who was active in the unsuccessful effort this fall to get Vice President Joe Biden to enter the race, joined GOP strategists in saying that the battle on the Democratic side has gone from being a threat to a useful warm-up round for the leader.

“Clinton,” he said, “has really upped her game the last few months.”

(Staff writer Michael A. Memoli in Manchester, N.H., contributed to this report.)

©2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talk during a commercial break at the Democratic presidential candidates debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire December 19, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder

 

Polls May Actually Underestimate Trump’s Support, Study Finds

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump leads the GOP presidential field in polls of Republican voters nationally and in most early voting states, but some polls may actually be understating his support, according to a new study.

The analysis, by Morning Consult, a polling and market research company, looked at an odd occurrence that has cropped up repeatedly this year: Trump generally does better in online polls than in surveys done by phone.

Why is that, and which polls are more accurate — the online surveys that tend to show Trump with support of nearly four-in-10 GOP voters or the telephone surveys that have generally shown him with the backing of one-third or fewer?

Morning Consult ran an experiment: It polled 2,397 potential Republican voters earlier this month using three different methods — a traditional telephone survey with live interviewers calling landlines and cellphones, an online survey and an interactive dialing technique that calls people by telephone and asks them to respond to recorded questions by hitting buttons on their phone.

By randomly assigning people to the three different approaches and running all at the same time, they hoped to eliminate factors that might cause results to vary from one poll to another.

The experiment confirmed that “voters are about six points more likely to support Trump when they’re taking the poll online then when they’re talking to a live interviewer,” said Morning Consult’s polling director, Kyle Dropp.

“People are slightly less likely to say that they support him when they’re talking to a live human” than when they are in the “anonymous environment” of an online survey, Dropp said.

The most telling part of the experiment, however, was that not all types of people responded the same way. Among blue-collar Republicans, who have formed the core of Trump’s support, the polls were about the same regardless of method. But among college-educated Republicans, a bigger difference appeared, with Trump scoring 9 points better in the online poll.

Social-desirability bias — the well-known tendency of people to hesitate to confess certain unpopular views to a pollster — provides the most likely explanation for that education gap, Dropp and his colleagues believe.

Blue-collar voters don’t feel embarrassed about supporting Trump, who is very popular in their communities. But many college-educated Republicans hesitate to admit their attraction to the blustery New York billionaire, the experiment indicates.

That finding suggests that the online surveys, which show Trump with a larger lead, provide the more accurate measure of what people would do in the anonymity of a voting booth, Dropp said. That might not be as true, however, in a public setting such as the Iowa caucus, where people identify their candidate preference in front of friends and neighbors.

“It’s our sense that a lot of polls are under-reporting Trump’s overall support,” he said.

©2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, December 19, 2015. REUTERS/Scott Morgan

 

Battle For Final Spot In GOP Debate: Chris Christie Vs. Rick Perry

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — With Fox News due to announce Tuesday which candidates will be onstage for the first debate of the GOP primary season, the fight for the final slot seems to be a battle of governors — Rick Perry versus Chris Christie.

The GOP has 17 candidates who have announced that they’re seeking the nomination, so debate sponsors have to find some way to cull the field. Fox, the broadcast sponsor for Thursday’s session, announced in the spring that 10 candidates would get to debate, picked based on who has the highest average standings in the five most recent national polls released by Tuesday.

So far, the most recent polls all tell pretty much the same story: Donald Trump in the lead, followed by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

After those three, the recent polls show five other candidates bunched fairly tightly, all getting support in the mid- to high single digits — Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida, along with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon.

That accounts for eight slots, with three candidates consistently occupying the next tier — Perry, Christie and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

Whether by luck or smart tactics, Kasich announced his candidacy last month, just in time to be enjoying the usual announcement bounce in polls as the debaters get picked. The bounce is not much, but so far, it has been enough to put him ahead of one or both of the others in three of the four most recent surveys.

If that pattern holds, Kasich would be in the debate, which will be held in his home state, leaving Christie and Perry as the final two for the last slot. Whoever loses out would join the lower tier of candidates at a forum a few hours before the debate.

Fox is likely to announce its poll results Tuesday, which will certainly figure into the polling average.

Beyond that, however, network officials have given themselves considerable wiggle room on how to make the final decision. Although they’ve said they will average the most recent polls, they’ve left some key details undefined, such as how they will round off percentages, what they’ll consider to be a tie and whether they will use a simple arithmetical average or one that weights polls by sample size. Given that the candidates are tightly grouped together, those factors could all affect the outcome.

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie participates in the Voters First Presidential Forum in Manchester, New Hampshire August 3, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Obama’s New Emissions Rules Likely To Help Shape White House Race

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — With Monday’s release of landmark rules to combat global warming, President Barack Obama is putting into place what probably will be the last piece of his ambitious second-term agenda — one that highlights deep divisions in the country and helps shape the race to succeed him.

On immigration, health care, same-sex marriage and now climate change, Obama has aggressively used the powers of his office to align public policy with the values and aspirations of a largely urban, liberal and minority constituency heavily concentrated on the East and West coasts.

In the process, he has courted a backlash from Republican constituencies and states — an older, whiter population concentrated in the South and the nation’s interior.

That division was plain to see in reactions to the new rules, which are intended to change how the nation generates electricity in order to cut emission of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for warming the world’s climate.

Over the next 15 years, the plan would aim to sharply reduce the use of coal and ramp up the use of wind and solar power. Currently, coal accounts for almost 40 percent of the nation’s electricity, while wind and solar produce about 5 percent. By 2030, if the administration’s plan works, renewables would account for 28 percent of U.S. power generation, edging past coal at 27 percent.

The plan would boost efforts already underway, mostly in coastal states, led by California, to greatly increase the use of renewable power. But for those parts of the country still heavily reliant on coal, nearly all of them Republican-governed states in the Midwest, Great Plains and South, the rules would force a major economic transition that many elected officials have vowed to resist.

Democratic presidential hopefuls quickly lined up to praise the plan. Republicans, who have accused the administration of waging a “war on coal,” attacked it.

Obama is scheduled to formally unveil the regulations on Monday, but administration officials released an outline on Sunday.

“Our country’s clean-energy transition is happening faster than anybody anticipated,” Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy told reporters in a conference call. The new rules will accelerate those trends and maintain the reliability and affordability of the nation’s electrical supply while slowing climate change, she said.

The EPA will issue the rules using its authority under the Clean Air Act, meaning that Obama does not need to seek congressional approval. But opponents of the plan have already said they would try to block it in court.

Anticipating lawsuits, the administration dropped some elements of a preliminary proposal it issued in June 2014 and gave states an additional two years, until 2022, to comply with the new rules. But administration officials say the new plan will deliver a somewhat bigger cut in carbon emissions than they had projected last year. That’s largely because emissions from power plants are already dropping, McCarthy said.

Taking into account the improvements already underway “made the lift we had to achieve a lot lower,” she said.

Overall, the EPA estimates the plan will reduce emissions from the nation’s electrical industry by 32 percent compared with the level in 2005, which is the baseline the administration uses. Because electricity generation accounts for about one-third of U.S. carbon emissions, reductions from power plants would be a major step toward the administration’s goal of cutting total U.S. emissions by 26 percent to 28 percent over the next 15 years.

The EPA estimates that the rule will add $8.4 billion to utility costs over that period, but will yield at least four times that amount in benefits, said White House senior adviser Brian Deese. The utility industry already spends about $100 billion a year on plants and equipment, McCarthy noted.

Administration officials see the new rules as a significant enticement to get other countries to commit to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in global talks. Negotiations are scheduled to convene in Paris in December with hopes of achieving a new international agreement on combating climate change.

But some environmental advocates say the administration’s plans are already too weak to stop the warming of the world’s climate. They are likely to carefully scrutinize the new plan for signs that the administration made too many concessions to industry. Major environmental organizations withheld most comment on the new plan Sunday, saying they needed time to study the details.

Political figures were less reticent.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to succeed Obama, issued a statement calling the plan “a significant step forward” and saying that “as president, I’d defend it.” Other Democrats seeking the nomination followed Clinton’s lead.

The main contenders for the Republican nomination, by contrast, were all already on record opposing the administration’s plan, which has been under development for several years. Most have also expressed doubts about whether climate change is a significant problem that requires a government response.

By a coincidence of the calendar, as the administration began publicly outlining its plans, many of the leading candidates for the Republican nomination were at a gathering of wealthy donors assembled by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who have heavily funded efforts to oppose government regulation of the economy, particularly the energy industry.

Speaking to that gathering, at a resort hotel in Dana Point, Calif., Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of the presidential aspirants, said the new plan “will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans” and will achieve nothing because any U.S. reductions will quickly be overwhelmed by increased emissions from other countries.

“As far as I can see, China and India and other developing countries are going to continue to burn anything they can get their hands on,” Rubio said. “We must balance our interests for the ecology, which is legitimate, with our interest for the economy,” he added.

Jeb Bush, in a statement, called the administration’s plan “irresponsible and overreaching” and said it would “throw countless people out of work” and increase energy prices.

The stark political divide means the administration’s plan for reshaping the power industry will join an already lengthy list of major policies up for grabs in the 2016 election. In addition to Obama’s big domestic initiatives, the list includes the proposed agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear programs and the warming of U.S. relations with Cuba.

The administration’s plan would give each state a target for reducing emissions and ask them to come up with detailed blueprints for achieving those goals. Those blueprints could include a wide range of techniques, including increased use of renewable fuels, expanded use of nuclear power, closing older coal-fired plants and improvements in energy efficiency. The plan will include incentives for states to expand renewable energy use early in the process and to invest in cleaning up dirty plants in low-income areas that have often suffered the worst effects of pollution.

A new president who opposed the plan could try to repeal it entirely or give states waivers from compliance. In the meantime, both sides will head to court.

Opponents are urging states to go slow until that litigation is over — a strategy that could significantly delay the plan’s effects. Earlier this year, for example, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a major defender of the coal industry, sent a letter to governors urging them to refuse to comply.

The administration’s plan “goes far beyond” the EPA’s legal authority, he said, predicting that “the courts are likely to strike it down.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo:(AFP/David McNew)

GOP Field Divided On Donald Trump’s Comments About Mexican Immigrants

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — More than two weeks after Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, he continues to dominate the Republican presidential campaign debate and to divide his rivals for the nomination.

Initially, most Republican candidates tried to ignore him. But as major corporations cut ties with Trump over his declaration that some Mexican immigrants are rapists and drug-runners, and as the issue continues to fill the airwaves of Spanish-language media, more candidates have spoken out, separating into two camps.

Those who hope to appeal to Latino voters, including the two Floridians in the race, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio, as well as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, have criticized Trump.

On the other side, several candidates who hope to consolidate support among conservative voters suspicious of immigration, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, have defended Trump or avoided comment. A significant chunk of GOP voters have said in recent polls that they support Trump, who said as he kicked off his presidential campaign last month:

“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us.

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,” he said, adding, “And some, I assume, are good people.”

Bush, who initially commented about Trump only in an interview in Spanish, stepped up his criticism over the weekend, calling Trump’s remarks “extraordinarily ugly” and “wrong.”

“He’s doing this to inflame and to incite and to draw attention to his campaign,” Bush said. “It doesn’t represent the Republican Party or its values.

“Politically, we’re going to win when we’re hopeful and optimistic and big and broad rather than just ‘grrrrrrr,’ just angry all the time,” Bush said. “There is no tolerance for it.”

Rubio, in a statement, said Trump’s comments were “not just offensive and inaccurate, but also divisive.”

And Perry said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” that he was offended by Trump’s comments.

“I’ve said very clearly that Donald Trump does not represent the Republican Party,” Perry said.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also separated himself from Trump, though more gently than some of the others.
“I would never besmirch all the people who come here,” Huckabee said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“Sometimes, we get wrapped up in how many people are coming. The real question is, why are they coming?” he said. “If they’re coming because they want to be part of the American dream, if they want to come and share our flag, our interests, our language, assimilate into our culture because they believe in what we stand for, you know, then that’s the same reason our ancestors came.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called Trump’s remarks inappropriate, although he added that he likes Trump personally.

By contrast, Cruz, in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that aired Sunday, said, “I salute Donald Trump for focusing on the need to address illegal immigration.”

Trump has a “colorful way of speaking,” which is “not the way I speak,” Cruz said.

But “the Washington cartel supports amnesty,” and the media wants Republicans to attack each other, and “I’m not going to do it,” he said.

Trump has expressed surprise about the intensity of the criticism he has faced. “It’s bad for my brand,” Trump said in an interview on Fox News in which he lashed back at several of his GOP critics.

“The crime is raging. It’s violent, and people don’t want to even talk about it. If you talk about it, you are a racist. I don’t understand it,” he said.

Trump said Bush was “out of touch with the American people.”

Photo: Ted Cruz backed Donald Trump’s comments on Mexican immigrants, though he said he wouldn’t have spoken as colorfully as the business mogul. DonkeyHotey/Flickr

Change, Clinton-Style

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — At the heart of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s strategy for winning the presidency lies a basic assumption about the public’s desire for political change.

History says that after eight years of a presidency, Americans typically want something different. Elections in which one party seeks a third term in the White House tend to be tough slogs. Indeed, as Clinton prepares for the first major rally of her campaign, Saturday in New York, Americans by about 2 to 1 say the country is headed down the “wrong track.”

But what sort of change do Americans want?

Republican candidates, from former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the party’s center to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas on its right, are betting that voters want a major shift toward conservatism.

Clinton, the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, has made a different calculation. Her advisers believe that a significant share of those who say the country is on the wrong track feel that Republican policies would only make matters worse.

On the big issues, voters favor President Barack Obama’s values and priorities, Democratic strategists say. What they want is to see that agenda implemented more effectively.

That’s why, while Clinton plans to roll out policy proposals this summer, some of which will differ from or go beyond Obama’s, the more crucial pitch will be about her ability to govern.

As she told supporters at a recent speech in South Carolina, “I do know how hard this job I’m seeking is. I’ve seen it up close and personal. You’re not gonna catch me wondering what it’s like. Instead, I’m spending my time planning for what I will do for you when I get there.”

“You’re also not going to see me shrink from a fight,” she added. “I think you know by now I don’t quit.”

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That emphasis on Clinton’s toughness and tenacity aims to reach voters who say in polls and focus groups that they supported Obama but have grown disappointed about how much he’s been able to accomplish. It addresses a major concern for Democrats, but also poses some risks.

The concern could be seen at a focus group a few weeks before last fall’s midterm election, as a black woman, mother of a 7-year-old girl, sighed slightly as she gave her opinion of the man she had twice backed for president.

“I would say he seems depressed,” she said of Obama. “I really don’t feel he’s had the opportunity to do the things that he is capable of doing because different parties are holding him back.”

That’s a view that strategists in both parties continue to see frequently.

“Most people don’t blame the president,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman. “But they do wish more had gotten done.”

The first big risk for Clinton in trying to turn that sentiment to her advantage is the possibility that Republicans have better gauged the public mood.

“An overwhelming majority of Americans want to see a new set of policies from their next president, not a continuation of the same failed ones,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Short.

A second pitfall is that highlighting Clinton’s skill at political combat could worsen a problem that Obama famously poked when the two opposed each other in 2008: “You’re likable enough, Hillary,” he dismissively quipped during a debate.

On the first concern, public polls offer considerable evidence for the Democrats’ view, with one major caveat about the role of government.

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The RNC’s Short points to polls showing that Americans want the next president to “change direction” from Obama’s policies. When asked about specific issues, however, rather than Obama in general, the needle swings in the other direction.

Asked, for example, whether the government should do more to address the growing income gap between the very rich and everyone else, Americans supported more government action by 57 percent to 39 percent in a recent CBS/New York Times poll. Even larger majorities favored an increase in the minimum wage — which all the current Republican candidates oppose — plus higher taxes on millionaires and government-mandated paid family leave.

On social issues, numerous polls have shown the public growing more liberal across the board. Most notably, surveys find that by roughly 60 percent to 40 percent, the public favors marriage rights for same-sex couples, which the Republican candidates oppose with varying degrees of fervor.

Half of Americans in a recent poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center said they believe that the Earth’s climate is warming largely as a result of human activity such as burning fossil fuels, the position espoused by nearly all Democratic elected officials. Only about 1 in 4 said that no solid evidence proves the climate is warming, the position taken by most Republican hopefuls.

By 72 percent to 27 percent in a Pew survey last week, the public said that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay. That majority favoring what conservatives denounce as “amnesty” included 42 percent who supported allowing the immigrants to seek citizenship, as Clinton advocates, and 26 percent who favored permanent residency without citizenship, Bush’s position.

But while the majority of Americans agree with Democrats on those specific issues, Republicans stay competitive largely because of the deep, abiding skepticism and frustration about government voiced by a majority of Americans, most notably non-college-educated whites.

In a sharply divided nation, a majority of Americans agree with Democrats on specific goals, but a crucial swing bloc mistrusts the ability of either party to get much done or to make the nation’s economic system work on their behalf.

That’s where touting Clinton’s experience and reputation for political shrewdness could pay off, Democratic strategists believe.

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At the same time, campaign officials seem resigned to the reality that the negative side of how the public sees her probably won’t change.

Unlike most presidential hopefuls, Clinton has the luxury of not having to introduce herself to the public or get over the hurdle of having people see her as a plausible candidate. The flip side of that, however, is that she enters the race with many Americans already opposed to her.

As she has moved back into the political arena from her days as Secretary of State, the percentage of Americans who see Clinton unfavorably has risen. Amid controversy over her use of a private email server when she headed the State Department and questions about the motivations of donors to the Clinton Foundation, the share who see her as honest and trustworthy has declined.

Democratic strategists insist that’s a manageable problem. “It’s an issue,” said one strategist with long-standing ties to both Clinton and former President Bill Clinton. “But it’s not the only thing.”

“We did a poll just before the 1992 election, and only about one-third of people said Bill was honest and trustworthy, but they elected him anyway,” he said, speaking anonymously to avoid straining ties with the Clintons.

Ironically, one factor helping Clinton is the partisanship that has stalled large parts of Obama’s agenda. As Democrats see Clinton under attack, polls show they have started to circle the wagons, dismissing the criticisms as political sniping from the other side. A recent Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll of Democrats likely to vote in Iowa’s caucuses, for example, found that 7 in 10 thought the Clintons were getting a “bad rap” on the controversies.

America’s partisan lines have hardened dramatically during the Bush and Obama presidencies, notes Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on U.S. elections. Because of that, the Clinton campaign’s main task is to keep Democrats motivated to vote while reaching out to a relatively small slice of voters who are truly up for grabs, including those disappointed by the achievements of the last eight years.

“It’s almost certainly a close election,” Abramowitz said. “The partisan divide is so strong. There’s less room for movement.”

(c)2015 Tribune Co. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Hillary Clinton/Facebook

U.S. Has Become Notably Less Christian, Major Study Finds

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. has become significantly less Christian in the last eight years as the share of American adults who espouse no systematic religious belief increased sharply, a major new study found.

For what is likely the first time in U.S. history — certainly the first since the early days of the country — the actual number of American Christians has declined. Christianity, however, remains by far the nation’s dominant religious tradition, according to the new report by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center.

The rapid increase in the number of adults without ties to traditional religious institutions has strong implications for other social institutions and for politics.

Whether a person attends religious services regularly is among the strongest predictors of how he or she will vote, with traditional religion strongly tied to the Republican Party, at least among white Americans.

The decline in traditional religious belief adds to the demographic challenges facing the GOP, which already faces difficulties because of its reliance on white voters in a country that has grown more racially diverse.

The interaction between religion and politics may work both ways. Some scholars believe that close ties between traditional religion and conservatism, particularly on issues such as same-sex marriage, have led many younger Americans to cut their ties with organized religion.

Almost one in five American adults were raised in a religious tradition but are now unaffiliated, the study found. By contrast, only four percent have moved in the other direction.

Because the U.S. census does not ask questions about religion, the massive religion surveys by the Pew Research Center have become a chief source of information on the U.S. religious landscape.

The current survey questioned 35,071 U.S. adults last summer. Its huge size allows detailed analysis of even fairly small religious groups. The margin of error for the full sample is plus or minus six-tenths of a percentage point.

The U.S. still remains far more religious than most other economically advanced countries, but the significant increase in the share of Americans who do not follow a traditional religious belief mirrors trends in Europe and elsewhere.

Just short of one in four Americans now describe themselves as being agnostic, atheist, or simply “nothing in particular,” up from roughly one in six in 2007, according to the new study. The ranks of the “nones,” as the study labels them, have grown in large part from people abandoning the religion in which they were raised.

By contrast, Christian ranks have eroded. Roughly 173 million adult Americans identify as Christian, just under 71 percent of the U.S. population. That’s down from 178 million, or 78 percent of the U.S., in 2007. The total U.S. adult population grew by about eight percent during that eight-year period.

Protestants, who once dominated the U.S. population, no longer form a majority, the study found. About 47 percent of the U.S. population identifies with some Protestant denomination, down from just over half in 2007.

The decline has been uneven, with mainline denominations, such as Methodists and Presbyterians, shrinking more quickly than evangelical churches.

Slightly fewer than one in six adult Americans identify with the mainline Protestant churches, according to the survey. Evangelicals, by contrast, make up about one-quarter of the adult U.S. population. They now form a majority among those who identify as Protestant.

Another seven percent of American adults identify with historically black Protestant churches, a share that has remained relatively stable.

Catholics, about one in five Americans, have also seen some decline in numbers since 2007, the study found, although some other studies have found a more recent uptick. Almost 13 percent of American adults are former Catholics — the largest single group of people who have left a faith in which they were raised.

Among non-Christian faiths, Judaism remains the largest in the U.S., although only about two percent of the U.S. population identifies as Jewish. The number is up very slightly from what the survey found in 2007.

Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism each have less than one percent of the U.S. population, although the Muslim and Hindu population have both grown rapidly, reflecting immigration from Asia.

Photo: Mor via Flickr

Race And Religion Split Electorate As Campaigns Begin

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — As presidential hopefuls officially begin their campaigns, the two parties face each other with opposing coalitions clearly defined along lines of race, religion, and culture.

Nearly 90 percent of the Americans who identify or lean to the Republican Party are white. In particular, white, evangelical Protestants, who make up just under one-fifth of the overall U.S. population, account for more than one-third of those who back the GOP.

By contrast, the Democrats depend heavily on minorities, people without a religious affiliation, and the most highly educated segment of the white population, particularly women with graduate or professional degrees.

The contrasting portraits come from extensive data about party preferences released Tuesday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. The data, drawn from about 25,000 interviews Pew conducted last year for its surveys, provides a detailed look at where the two parties stand as the presidential campaign begins to take shape.

The share of Americans who openly identify with either of the two major parties has declined over the last decade as more Americans call themselves independents. Most of those self-described independents, however, lean toward one party or the other, and they have voting behavior that is almost as predictable as more open partisans.

The contrasting nature of the two coalitions drives the issues on which each party focuses. The Republicans’ heavy dependence on evangelical Protestants, for example, helps explain why the party’s lawmakers have backed what supporters call “religious freedom” legislation in many states and also why they have had so much difficulty navigating the fast-changing politics of that issue.

The Democrats’ reliance on minorities lies behind several of President Barack Obama’s policies, notably his push for an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws in ways that would benefit many Latino and Asian-American families.

Because its candidates have done poorly with minorities in a nation that has grown steadily less white, the GOP needs to keep winning a bigger majority of white voters to prevail in presidential elections. Republican strategists have split in the past couple of years on whether the strategy of depending on white turnout remains viable in presidential contests.

Overall, the Democrats enjoy a 48 percent to 39 percent advantage in the share of Americans who lean their way, but that edge shrinks to 48-43 percent among registered voters, the Pew figures show.

The Democratic advantage has been fairly consistent going back to 1992, a period during which the party has won the popular vote in five out of six presidential elections. But in elections that don’t involve the White House, the voters whom Democrats count on do not turn out as reliably as Republican backers, creating a major advantage for the GOP in off-year contests.

While many of the demographic divisions between the two parties have been constant for years — Democrats consistently do better with women than with men; Republicans do better with married people than unmarried — the Pew data show two major recent shifts, one favoring each party.

Democrats have greatly improved their standing among Americans with graduate or professional degrees, particularly women.

In 1992, Americans with more than a college education divided their political loyalties equally between the two parties. But since the middle of the last decade, that group has become increasingly Democratic. They now favor the Democrats 56-36 percent.

Combine the gender gap with educational differences and the contrast become huge. Women with education beyond college favor Democrats by about two to one, for example. By contrast, white men without a college degree favor Republicans 54-33 percent.

The other major change has been the growing Republican advantage among white evangelicals, which has expanded steadily during Obama’s presidency. They now back Republicans 68-22 percent.

Although the two parties also have a generational divide — with older Americans favoring the GOP and younger ones leaning heavily toward Democrats — that difference has more to do with religion, ethnicity, and race than age itself.

The so-called Silent Generation, made of Americans born between 1929 and 1946, is the whitest of the country’s major age groups and favors the GOP 47-43 percent.

By contrast, Millennials, who range in age from 18 to 33, comprise the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in the voting population. They favor Democrats 51-35 percent, but mostly because more than four in ten of them are nonwhite. White members of the Millennial generation have political preferences much like their elders; nonwhites of their age favor Democrats 61-23 percent.

Photo: (Carrie Sloan) via Flickr

Netanyahu Tries To Undo Harm To US-Israel Relations; White House Icy In Response

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to walk back controversial remarks he made in the closing days of his re-election campaign, turning to two U.S. television networks to rebut charges of racism and insist he still backs a negotiated peace that would include a Palestinian state.

But his words met an icy response at the White House, where press secretary Josh Earnest repeated that Netanyahu had walked away from previous Israeli commitments to a two-state solution for the conflict with the Palestinians.

“I haven’t changed my policy” on a Palestinian state, Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that aired Thursday. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”

That remark sought to take back one he made in the final days of the campaign. As he sought to spur his nationalist, conservative backers to the polls, Netanyahu had said he would oppose creating an independent Palestinian state. His remarks were widely interpreted as negating the pledge he had made in 2009 to back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu insisted in Thursday’s interviews that he had meant only that a Palestinian state wasn’t possible in current conditions.

“Circumstances have to change,” he said, pointing to the efforts the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has made to negotiate a unity pact with the more radical Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza region.

Undoing the tie with Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist group, is a necessary first step for any negotiations, he said.

“You have to get the international community to press on the Palestinians to go back to — go back on their unity pact with the terrorist Hamas and come back to the table,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, according to excerpts released by Fox. The interview was scheduled to air Thursday evening.

Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority, said he was pessimistic about the chances of negotiating a two-state solution with Netanyahu. The Palestinians plan to resume efforts to persuade the U.N. Security Council to pass new resolutions aimed at securing their statehood, Abbas said.

Administration officials seemed unimpressed with Netanyahu’s efforts to make amends.

“What is apparent is that in the context of the campaign, and while he was the sitting prime minister of Israel, he walked back from commitments that Israel had previously made to a two-state solution,” Earnest said.

“This was a policy that was supported and in place under both Democratic and Republican presidents,” he added. “We’ll have to sort of see what sort of policy and priorities the prime minister chooses” in his new government.

In the meantime, he repeated the suggestion that administration officials had made Wednesday that if Netanyahu was abandoning the two-state goal, the U.S. might drop its longstanding policy of blocking United Nations resolutions that Israel opposes.

“The United States has repeatedly intervened in some of those debates at the U.N. and in other places by saying we should — the best way for us to solve this problem is to get the two parties to sit down at the negotiating table, resolve their differences so that this two-state solution can be realized,” he said.

“Now that that foundation has been eroded, it means that our policy decisions need to be reconsidered. And that’s what we will do.”

In the interviews, Netanyahu also tried to take back a remark about Arab voters that had prompted an angry reaction from administration officials and many prominent American Jews.

In a video released on election day, he had warned supporters that Arab voters were heading to the polls “in droves.” U.S. officials called that comment a negation of Israel’s democratic values.

Netanyahu denied any discriminatory intent.

“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike,” Netanyahu told NBC.

“I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote; I was trying to get out my vote,” he said in both interviews.

On that front, too, the White House showed little inclination to let the issue drop. Asked about Netanyahu’s comments, Earnest decried “cynical, divisive election day tactics” which were a “pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab Israeli citizens and their right to participate in their democracy.”

Both sides continued to say that despite the current strains between the two governments, the underlying alliance between the U.S. and Israel remains strong.

“There’s an unbreakable bond” between Israel and the U.S.,” Netanyahu said on NBC. “We’ll work together, we have to.”

Netanyahu also adopted a softer tone in his criticism of the nuclear deal the U.S. and five other world powers have been negotiating with Iran. He continued to say, as he did in his speech to Congress earlier this month, that he thought a better deal could be negotiated, but did not repeat some of the tough rhetoric he used then.

It’s possible to negotiate “an agreement we wouldn’t like but we could live with,” he said in the Fox interview.

A key concern, he said, would be the duration of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and what tests Iran would have to meet to have those restrictions lifted. That issue remains under negotiation, officials involved in the talks have said.

(Special correspondent Maher Abukhater in Ramallah contributed to this report.)

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama watches as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 3, 2014. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Abaca Press/MCT)

Netanyahu Tries To Undo Harm To U.S.-Israel Relations

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to walk back controversial remarks he made in the closing days of his re-election campaign, turning to two U.S. television networks to rebut charges of racism and insist he still backs a negotiated peace that would include a Palestinian state.

“I haven’t changed my policy” on a Palestinian state, he said in an interview with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that aired Thursday. “I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.”

In the final days of the campaign, as he sought to spur his nationalist, conservative backers to the polls, Netanyahu had said he would oppose creating an independent Palestinian state. His remarks were widely interpreted as negating the pledge he had made in 2009 to back a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As he sought to defuse the diplomatic furor his campaign remarks caused, Netanyahu insisted that he had meant only that a Palestinian state wasn’t possible in current conditions.

“Circumstances have to change,” he said, pointing to the efforts the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank has made to negotiate a unity pact with the more radical Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza region.

Undoing the tie with Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist group, is a necessary first step for any negotiations, he said.

“You have to get the international community to press on the Palestinians to go back to — go back on their unity pact with the terrorist Hamas and come back to the table,” Netanyahu said in a separate interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox News, according to excerpts released by Fox. The interview was scheduled to air Thursday evening.

Whether Netanyahu’s latest statements will satisfy Obama administration officials remains to be seen. On Wednesday, administration officials had said that if Netanyahu was abandoning the two-state goal, the U.S. might drop its longstanding policy of blocking United Nations resolutions that Israel opposes.

The creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy on the Mideast in both the Barack Obama and George W. Bush administrations.

In advance of the interviews, Obama administration officials had expressed skepticism about Netanyahu’s changing positions.

“You can’t say all this … and then just say, ‘I was just kidding,'” a senior administration official said Wednesday.

“There’s a several-year record where Bibi shows he’s not willing to move the ball down the field on the Palestinian state,” the official said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “That’s not just one comment. We take it at face value.”

In the interviews, Netanyahu also tried to take back a remark about Arab voters that had prompted an angry reaction from administration officials and many prominent American Jews.

In a video released on election day, he had warned supporters that Arab voters were heading to the polls “in droves.” U.S. officials called that comment a negation of Israel’s democratic values.

Netanyahu denied any discriminatory intent.

“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of all of Israel’s citizens, Arabs and Jews alike,” Netanyahu told NBC.

“I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote; I was trying to get out my vote,” he said in both interviews.

Netanyahu also sought to play down the strains between his government and the Obama administration.

“There’s an unbreakable bond” between Israel and the U.S., Netanyahu said. “We’ll work together, we have to.”

Netanyahu also adopted a softer tone in his criticism of the nuclear deal the U.S. and five other world powers have been negotiating with Iran. He continued to say, as he did in his speech to Congress earlier this month, that he thought a better deal could be negotiated, but did not repeat some of the tough rhetoric he used then.

It’s possible to negotiate “an agreement we wouldn’t like but we could live with,” he said in the Fox interview.

A key concern, he said, would be the duration of restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities and what tests Iran would have to meet to have those restrictions lifted. That issue remains under negotiation, officials involved in the talks have said.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party’s leader Benjamin Netanyahu gives a statement to the media at the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, on March 17, 2015. (Xinhua/Zuma Press/TNS)

Has Email Dispute Hurt Clinton’s Standing? Not Much, New Polls Indicate

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The fight over her use of a private email account while secretary of State may have dominated political news, but it does not appear to have significantly damaged Hillary Rodham Clinton’s standing with the public, two new polls have found.

A new CNN/ORC poll, conducted after the news conference Clinton held last week where she answered some questions about her email use, found that 57 percent of Americans said she was someone they would be “proud” to have as president, compared with 42 percent who disagreed.

A slim majority, 51 percent to 47 percent, say that Clinton “did do something wrong” by using a personal email account for official business as head of the State Department. But by 52 percent to 46 percent, those polled said the “way Clinton handled her email while serving as secretary of State is not relevant to her character or her ability to serve as president.”

Americans were evenly divided on whether Clinton is “honest and trustworthy.” That could be a problem, but it’s not a rating that has changed much in recent years. A CNN poll taken at the outset of her last presidential campaign, in October 2007, found a similarly close division, with 51 percent saying yes and 46 percent no.

Responses to that question divided overwhelmingly by party, with Democrats by 83 percent to 15 percent calling Clinton trustworthy while Republicans by 85 percent to 15 percent said she was not. Independents divided almost evenly.

On a somewhat related question, 58 percent of Americans said that Clinton says “what she believes,” while 41 percent said she says only “what she thinks voters want to hear.” That figure also has changed little from 2007.

Nor has the share of Americans who view Clinton favorably changed much. In the current survey, 53 percent had a favorable view of Clinton and 44 percent viewed her unfavorably. That’s slightly lower than the CNN poll found in November, but almost identical to the numbers the poll found 10 months ago, indicating more of a random fluctuation than any clear trend.

Clinton’s husband, former President Bill Clinton, continues to enjoy remarkably high favorability, with Americans expressing a positive view of him by about 2 to 1.

The former president has held that high level of favorability almost throughout President Barack Obama’s tenure. The percentage of Republicans who view him favorably is much higher now than it was when he was in office, perhaps in part because Republican leaders often contrast him with Obama, saying that Clinton as president was more moderate and willing to compromise.

Asked whether Hillary Clinton’s email practices were a serious problem, just under a third of those polled said they were “very serious” while a quarter called them “not a serious problem at all.” The remainder were closely divided between “somewhat serious” and “not too serious.”

Not surprisingly, views on the issue showed a sharp partisan divide. Only 9 percent of Democrats said they viewed the issue as “very serious” while two-thirds said it was either not a problem at all or not too serious. Republican views were even more lopsided in the other direction, with 9 percent saying it was not a problem at all, 55 percent saying the problem was “very serious” and another 20 percent calling it “somewhat serious.”

Just over a quarter of Democrats said they thought Clinton had done something wrong. Among Republicans, three-quarters said so. Among Democrats, 3 in 10 said Clinton had not done enough to explain her conduct. Among Republicans, that number jumped to 8 in 10.

Meanwhile, although some liberal activists have longed for someone to challenge Clinton from the left in the Democratic primaries, the poll showed little opening for that kind of contest. Among self-identified liberals, 78 percent had a favorable view of Clinton, as did 86 percent of self-identified Democrats.

Even larger numbers, 83 percent of liberals and 89 percent of Democrats, said they would be proud to have her as president. Women expressed that view 64 percent to 35 percent, while men divided almost evenly, 50 percent to 49 percent.

Separately, a YouGov survey found that the percentage of Americans paying close attention to the email issue had grown over the last two weeks and the response to it had become more partisan.

In the week before Clinton’s news conference, just over half of Americans, 53 percent, said they were following the issue closely. Afterward, just short of two-thirds, 65 percent, said they were, the poll found. The increase came mostly from Democrats, who had not been following the story closely but now were more likely to.

But with that greater attention came greater partisanship. Asked if the issue was “serious” or not, the share of Republicans saying it was grew from 44 percent before the news conference to 60 percent in the latest poll. Among Democrats, however, the pattern was reversed — the share calling the problem serious dropped from 17 percent before the news conference to 8 percent after.

Just over half of Republicans in the latest survey said media outlets were “not making enough of a big deal” about the email controversy. By contrast, 71 percent of Democrats said the media were “making too big a deal” about it. Overall, 43 percent of Americans said the media paid too much attention to it, 27 percent said not enough and 20 percent said the amount of attention was “about right.”

The CNN/ORC poll was conducted Friday through Sunday. It interviewed 1,009 adult Americans and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The two YouGov surveys were conducted March 4-6 and March 11-13. The YouGov survey questioned 1,000 American adults using an online panel weighted to reflect U.S. demographics. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Photo: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the 2014 Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola, IA. (Gregory Hauenstein/Flickr)

2016 Republican Race Up For Grabs, Democrats Back Clinton, Poll Finds

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush may be the establishment favorite for the Republican presidential nomination, but he still has a lot of work to do to persuade GOP voters to back him, a new poll finds.

By contrast, Democrats seem overwhelmingly willing to support Hillary Rodham Clinton as their party’s nominee, despite unhappiness on the part of some liberal activists and the current controversy over her use of a personal email account while she was secretary of State.

The Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, released Monday, found that 49 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they could see supporting Bush, the former governor of Florida, while 42 percent said they could not.

Two of Bush’s rivals, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, were more widely acceptable. Just over half (53 percent) of people who expect to vote in the GOP primaries said they could see backing Walker, compared with only 17 percent who said they could not. Rubio drew a similarly one-sided response, 56 percent to 26 percent.

By contrast, the poll delivered harsh news to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie: 57 percent of the likely GOP voters said they could not see supporting him, compared with 32 percent who said they could.

Of 14 GOP figures polled, the only one who did worse than Christie was Donald Trump, the developer and casino owner, whose occasional declarations that he plans to run are usually dismissed as self-promotional stunts.

Among other major GOP figures, former Texas Governor Rick Perry and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul had ratings similar to Bush’s.

On the Democratic side, 86 percent of likely primary voters said they could see supporting Clinton. The poll was conducted Sunday to Thursday of last week, as the controversy over her email use began to bubble.

Voters overall had a positive image of Clinton, with 44 percent viewing her favorably and 36 percent negatively. Bush is less well known, with 23 percent seeing him positively and 34 percent negatively.

The poll does point to one significant area of potential weakness for Clinton: By 51 percent to 44 percent, voters overall said she would represent “a return to policies of the past” rather than “new ideas and vision for the future.”

That could be a liability at a time when 59 percent of voters say they would prefer to see a candidate “who will bring greater changes” than one who is “more experienced and tested.”

But Clinton’s liability on that question is notably less than Bush’s. In his case, 60 percent see him as representing the past, and 27 percent say he would represent the future.

The poll, conducted by a team of pollsters from each party, Bill McInturff from the GOP and Fred Yang from the Democrats, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the full sample.

Photo: Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Lead On Watermark Silicon Valley Conference for Women on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group/TNS)

Immigration Q&A: What Happens Now In The Legal Fight Over Obama’s Plans?

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The court fight over President Barack Obama’s plan to shield as many as 5 million immigrants from deportation involves a number of complex legal issues. U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas issued an order late Monday at least temporarily blocking the program from going forward.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the case and the ruling.

What would the administration’s program do?

The program would “defer action” for a large class of immigrants currently in the country without legal authorization. They would not receive citizenship or legal status, but would not be at risk of deportation so long as the deferred action remained in effect. Under rules that have been in place for many years, immigrants with deferred-action status are also allowed to work legally in the U.S.

What legal authority does Obama claim for deferred action?

The government has had some form of deferred action since at least the 1960s. Executive branch officials have argued — and courts have agreed — that the president and the executive branch agencies that work under him have significant discretion over which immigrants to deport. The legal justification is that the government has limited resources and that federal agencies can set priorities.

“The decision to prosecute or not prosecute an individual is, with narrow exceptions, a decision that is left to the executive branch’s discretion,” Hanen agreed in his opinion Monday.

What’s the legal argument on the other side?

Discretion isn’t unlimited. The government can’t completely rewrite the law under the guise of setting priorities. The legal issue is whether Obama’s program is so big and far-reaching that it goes beyond what can be justified as executive discretion. The plaintiffs in the case before Hanen, 26 Republican-led states, have a strong case that the administration did go too far, the judge ruled.

The administration cannot “establish a blanket policy of non-enforcement that also awards legal presence and benefits to otherwise removable aliens,” the judge wrote. The executive branch has “discretion in the manner in which it chooses to fulfill the expressed will of Congress” but cannot set up a program that “actively acts to thwart” what Congress intended, he wrote.

The Obama administration says the 26 states have no legal right to sue in this case. Why?

Federal courts only allow cases to proceed when the person or group bringing the case meets the legal standards for what is known as standing. To have standing, people or groups need to show several things, including that the action they want to challenge will have a direct, provable impact on them.

That rule is designed to prevent litigants from dragging courts into abstract disputes rather than what the Constitution limits them to considering, an actual “case or controversy.” The administration argues that although Republican officials disapprove of Obama’s decision, the states themselves will not suffer any actual injury.

What did the judge say?

Hanen ruled that the states would suffer an actual injury because the deferred-action program would cost them money. For example, states would probably be required to issue driver’s licenses to immigrants with deferred-action status, he wrote. Because of that, the states have standing, the judge ruled.

Did the judge make a final ruling on the case?

No. Monday night’s ruling said that the states could take their claim to a full trial, which might not take place for months. In the meantime, the judge issued an injunction blocking the administration from starting the new deferred-action programs.

“There will be no effective way of putting the toothpaste back in the tube” if the government starts granting immigrants deferred status, the judge wrote.

What happens now?

The government has said it will appeal. The case would go to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which could decide to leave Hanen’s preliminary injunction in place until the judges of that court can hold a hearing on the matter. The appeals court could also dissolve the injunction.

The judge said the administration may have failed to follow proper procedures in drawing up the new program. What’s that about?

The federal government has a law, known as the Administrative Procedures Act, which lays out the steps that agencies must take when they issue new rules. Those typically include notice and an extended period for public comment, often between 18 months and two years. The states argue that the Department of Homeland Security should have been required to follow those procedures in setting up the deferred-action program. The administration says this is not the kind of program that is covered by those procedural requirements. Although the judge did not make a final ruling on that question, he clearly sympathized with the states’ argument.

AFP Photo/John Moore

New Books By Marco Rubio And Mike Huckabee Hint At Directions For Potential Presidential Campaigns

By David Lauter, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

Little noticed amid the will-they-or-won’t-they speculation over who will run for the 2016 Republican nomination, leading figures in both parties now agree to a surprising extent about what economic problem will top the next president’s agenda. Whether either side can come up with a convincing solution remains to be seen.

Marco Rubio’s description of the problem sounds a lot like the way Hillary Rodham Clinton or even Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts would put it:

“Something structural has shifted” in the U.S. economy, Rubio writes in his new book, American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone. “For most Americans, wages are stagnant. Old jobs have been outsourced or automated …. Middle-class families are living paycheck to paycheck, juggling bill payments to stay one step ahead of debt collection agencies.” And, he adds, “the blame for this failure belongs to both parties in Washington, D.C.”

The bipartisan — although by no-means unanimous — agreement that wage stagnation has become America’s paramount economic problem draws on powerful evidence. An American family whose income lies at the middle of the scale made less in 2014 than in 2000 when inflation is considered. Although the overall economy has grown, the lion’s share has gone to those at the top of the pyramid.

The persistence of the problem through the presidencies of Democrats and Republicans alike mocks any plan that proposes to just pursue previous policies with more vigor. And so both sides have cast about for new — or at least new-seeming — ideas.

That search fits well with Rubio, the youthful, energetic conservative who has been the subject of presidential speculation almost since the moment he won a Florida Senate seat in 2010. At age 43, he would very much like to present himself as a fresh alternative to a more senior generation of Republicans that includes Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush.

His book seems aimed at bolstering his claim, if he decides to run, that he is the new ideas candidate of the 2016 Republican field. Borrowing heavily from white papers produced by “conservative reform” intellectuals who include Yuval Levin, Peter Wehner and Reihan Salam, the book consists of a series of policy proposals leavened by anecdotes about people Rubio has met in his career and tales of his family history, which readers of his previous book, a memoir, will find familiar.

Several of Rubio’s ideas have potential for bipartisan support. Expanding wage supplements for low-income workers through the tax system, for example, broadly resembles an idea that President Obama outlined in last year’s budget, although Democrats would object to Rubio’s plan to pay for it by cutting benefits elsewhere.

Similarly, Rubio’s support for legalizing many of the millions of immigrants in the U.S. illegally leaves him much closer to the White House than to the rejectionist majority in the House Republican caucus, even though he now says reform must be accomplished through three separate bills rather than all at once.

Other ideas, such as a “regulatory budget” to limit new rules, increasing the Social Security retirement age or revamping Medicare with a voucher system, hew closely to conservative orthodoxy and have been denounced by Democrats for years.

What none of the ideas do is add up to a plan that clearly seems capable of overcoming powerful trends that have held down wages — globalization, technological change, the decline of unions, a waning of the U.S. edge in education. If tax cuts and restrictions on government regulations were the answer, 20 years of Republican presidencies under Ronald Reagan and the two George Bushes presumably would have solved the problem long ago.

Still, Rubio has crafted an appeal aimed directly at the concerns of voters at the center of the U.S. electorate.

The same cannot be said for Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and Fox TV commentator. His new book, God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy, could easily be subtitled “My side’s better than yours.”

Unlike Rubio, Huckabee preaches only to the choir — the Southern, white, churchgoing conservatives who inhabit what he labels “Bubba-ville.” The book feeds their sense of grievance that they are looked down upon by the residents of Los Angeles, New York and Washington (“Bubble-ville”) even as it stokes feeling of moral superiority.

Although a charitable and generous man in much of his career, Huckabee has written a somewhat mean-spirited book.

Those who enjoy watching the back-and-forth on cable television will find the style familiar and some of the one-liners too.

Commenting on Beyoncé’s appearance with her husband, Jay Z, at the 2013 Grammys, for example, he has this to say: “Jay Z is a very shrewd businessman, but I wonder: Does it occur to him that he is arguably crossing the line from husband to pimp by exploiting his wife as a sex object?”

“Liberals,” he writes, hypocritically allow “such hateful and exploitative treatment of women” to go unchallenged “when it’s performed by ‘cool’ people like Jay Z and Beyoncé.” But, he adds, “they’re contributing to a culture that is abrasive, rude, obnoxious and just plain mean,” one that “is not that far a journey to believing that some people are not fully human, that they’re disposable and expendable.”

That’s “the same root evil that created slavery, genocide, ‘honor killings’ and the Holocaust,” he says.

From Beyoncé to the Holocaust in under two pages. That takes some skill. Whether it’s a skill voters look for in a president is questionable.

And, speaking of “contributing to a culture that is abrasive, rude, obnoxious and just plain mean,” consider the title Huckabee gives the chapter in which he denounces the Transportation Security Administration and the National Security Agency for infringing on American freedoms: “Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner!” Apparently, he finds references to anal rape amusing or at least suitable as an attention-getting metaphor for submission to authority.

Campaign books don’t necessarily say much about how a politician would govern, but they do tell a lot about how author/candidates hope to be perceived by voters.

Rubio clearly hopes to balance his relative inexperience — less than one full term in the Senate, much like Obama — with a heavy emphasis on ideas. And while remaining true to his conservative roots, he has embraced some proposals that could allow him to reach beyond the Republican base.

Huckabee, by contrast, seems content to rally his core supporters. It’s a strategy that could, perhaps, win an early primary or two — particularly with a crowded field — but that ultimately seems aimed more at increased notoriety than ultimate victory.

Photo: jbouie via Flickr

Obama’s Approval Ratings Benefit From Good Economy But Have Low Ceiling

By David Lauter, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama’s standing with the public likely will continue its recent upward trend following the latest positive economic news, but new data on the country’s polarized politics suggests he will soon bump up against a low ceiling.

The labor market data released by the federal government Friday showed the best three months of job growth since the mid-1990s, an increase in the percentage of Americans who are working and the first signs of wage growth.

That’s the kind of good news that usually sends presidential approval ratings upward.

But political polarization exerts a powerful pull in the other direction: Much like President George W. Bush before him, Obama faces near unanimous disapproval from opposing partisans that is deeply dug in and unlikely to change.

Gallup’s latest analysis of a year’s worth of polling data illustrates the depth of the polarization.

Across his sixth year as president, Obama averaged 79 percent approval from fellow Democrats but only 9 percent from Republicans. In the history of Gallup’s survey, that 70-point partisan gap is unrivaled, except for Bush, whose ratings in year six were identical to Obama’s but with the party labels switched.

Critics of both presidents decried their failure to unify the country, but the fact that two such different politicians could have identical degrees of polarization strongly suggests that the times, not the men, are to blame.

In the past half century, the only years that showed more polarization than Obama’s sixth year were his — and Bush’s — fourth and fifth years.

All of that suggests that Obama’s overall approval rating probably will not rise much above 50 percent for any sustained period. The 64 percent approval that President Bill Clinton averaged in his sixth year, for example, is out of reach for Obama unless some completely unforeseen development causes Republicans to change their view of him.

A sharply polarized electorate is not the worst thing that can happen to a president, however.

The partisan gap for Bush narrowed in the last two years of his tenure. That wasn’t because Democrats began to approve his performance more but because Republicans approved it less.

Obama, by contrast, has been able to keep his party largely united behind him despite perennial tensions between the White House and congressional Democrats.

With strong economic growth, executive actions on immigration and climate change, and policy proposals in his State of the Union speech that address Democratic priorities on a host of other issues, the unity on his side of the aisle likely will continue to grow.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a meeting with a group of young undocumented immigrants in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 4, 2015 in Washington, D.C. The five immigrants, known as “dreamers,” who meet with the president have received protections from deportation under a program Obama implemented in 2012. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)